Later today I will sit before a camera and videotape a piece for launching a new product. My instructions: don’t wear stripes or polka dots, and keep it under two minutes.

No problem on attire, but trimming to two minutes has been a challenge. Thank goodness for my six years with the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal, where editors questioned adjectives, banned adverbs, and scorned passive verbs.

Writers fall in love with words, of course. But if you want to write for impact, keep the affair brief. When I started writing my Daily Meditations, for example, each was a leisurely 1,000 words. Then I cut them to 800 words, then 600 words, and now 475 words. I’m thinking that, in what Seth Godin calls an “economy of attention,” I’d better trim another 100 words.

Is this the end of civilization? No. Just the end of wordiness. I read some blogs that are 2,000 words long, and I just hope the author had a good time. No one else will give time to such length. If you can say something in three words, why use ten? The point is the message, not flowery language.

After all, the most powerful verse of Scripture is just two words: “Jesus wept.” Entire tomes on Torah became, “Love God, and love your neighbor.” Would length improve the 141 words of the Beatitudes?

Brevity takes more work, and it requires a focus on the reader, listener or viewer. I might enjoy writing many words, but if my reader only has time for a few, then I need to decide for whom the pen toils.


Q: I am so disappointed in those who feel that I must believe, act and agree with their theological perspective. They blame ME for their sad, grieved feelings and also believe they can’t “be the church” because of MY behavior. How do we respond to these people? What words can we use to communicate that we are all on our own path and that my path, though it is different from yours, does not get in your way?

A: Two challenges seem to be at work here. One is the tension between uniformity and pluralism. If something is true for one person, how can it not be true for all persons? The other is the tension between connection by agreement and connection by a force other than agreement.

Each challenge requires mental agility and personal humility. Not everyone can accept that all reality is relative, or that God can be one thing to me and another thing to you, or that faith grows from God’s regard for us and not from our agreeing on God.

I don’t think this is an argument that you win, as much as a commitment to show respect and affection before it is given. Someone else doesn’t need to be wrong in order for you to feel at peace with your beliefs.